The first Orthodox service held in Australia was 27th March 1820. It was the Orthodox Easter celebration service held by Fr. Dionysius on board the visiting Russian ship “Vostok”. It took another hundred years before a Russian Orthodox parish had been established.
The first Russian Orthodox Church in Australia was founded in Brisbane, Queensland in 1923 by a group of Russian refugees fleeing the Bolshevik persecution. For the most part these remnants of the opponents of Communism loosely named the White Movement came to Brisbane via China where at the time there was a substantial Russian colony. Among the newly settlers was a military archpriest, Father Alexander Shabasheff. Energetic and strong willed, he immediately took steps towards establishing a Russian Orthodox Parish.
He was greatly helped in this task by Canon D. J. Garland a Church of England Minister who also served in the armed forces as a chaplain during the Great War. Canon David John Garland, V.D., O.B.E., was a well known public figure. He was Chairman of Committees of the Anglican Synod, a devoted parish priest with many responsibilities, and a busy community worker. He was also the founder of ANZAC day.
Men, women and children line the streets to watch the procession of the 41st Battalion through Brisbane on Anzac Day, 1916. The street is decorated with flags, strung between buildings on either side of the road. Copied from a postcard, the back of which reads: Bells Paddock, 41st Battalion. A Company. My Dear Brother, Just a post card to let you know I am well. We are leaving on the eighth of the month for lord only knows where. We have not had any drill yet, so it will be a few months before we see the firing line. Charley Williams is down here in camp. I will send a photo of myself before I go. This postcard of our battalion leading on Anzac Day, six thousand marching. There is a lot of Mackay lads in the hut. I …(?) will now conclude, hoping this will find you well, as it leaves me. I remain, your affectionate brother, Earl.
ANZAC Parade in Queens St. Brisbane in 1919
Despite his numerous commitments, he found time and ways and means to help new settlers of other religions to establish their churches. For his contribution to the Greek Orthodox Church he had the order of Holy Sepulchre bestowed upon him by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. When Canon Garland, a volunteer himself in 1914 and a Senior Army Chaplain (see photo) serving in the Middle East for 1918-1919, learned of Fr. Alexander’s desire to establish a Russian Orthodox Parish, he offered his support and practical help.
He approached the Archbishop of Brisbane, Archbishop Sharp, on behalf of the Russian community of about forty members, seeking approval to help form them into a congregation under the spiritual care of Fr. Alexander.
The Archbishop’s approval was granted and a small Anglican church of St. Thomas, (a converted cottage) on the corner of Grey St. And Fish La., South Brisbane, was loaned to the new congregation for their use as a place of worship. Canon Garland took a personal interest in the development of the new parish, and members of the Russian community spoke very highly of him and with particular gratitude. On 13 October 1925 he attended a special service in the St. Thomas’ Church for the purpose of constituting the congregation, and read in English a communication from Archbishop Sharp, which was also read in Russian by an interpreter.
In his greeting to the new congregation the Archbishop said: “Now, therefore, we, Gerald, by Divine Providence, Archbishop of Brisbane, do give unto you the members of the Russian Orthodox Church within the city and the neighbourhood of Brisbane, our approval of your desire to form yourselves into a congregation under the spiritual care and pastorate of Fr. Alexander Shabasheff.”
During the course of his address Canon Garland said he was glad, in the name of the Archbishop, to welcome the new congregation and to wish them every blessing. In conclusion he urged them to be true to their own religion as God meant them to be. This significant and moving service marked the beginning of the religious life in Australia for the small Russian community. From that day regular services were conducted in this church. With these services Fr. Alexander was helped by “matushka” (title given to a cleric’s wife, literally meaning “mother”) Anna, his wife, who baked antidoron (altar bread) which is an essential part in the preparation of the Holy Communion.
South Brisbane, circa 1924 (St. Thomas’ church visible)
Once church premises were secured and regular services organised, a general meeting of the parishioners was held. At this meeting Mr. V.E. Morjanoff was elected the first church warden and the first Parish Council was formed. One of the first resolutions of the new Parish Council was the introduction of a levy of 2/- (two shillings) per week for its members. This was the beginning of financial and administrative activities of the new Parish.
With the Parish Council assisting in financial and administrative matters, Fr. Alexander established a church choir, and appointed Mr D.K. Anisimoff, a graduate of St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, as the first choir master and reader. Mr Anisimoff was born in the Vyatka Region in Russia on 29 February 1896. After the Revolution he fled to China and then to Australia, arriving in 1922, settling in Brisbane.
In 1924 another priest, Fr. Adrian Tourchinsky, arrived in Brisbane from China. Fr. Alexander recognised Fr. Adrian’s theological qualifications and his rights as a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. He accepted him as his assistant and second priest in the parish.
Fr. Adrian Tourchinsky was born in Zhitomir, Russia, in 1883. He was ordained a deacon in 1902 and later elevated to the rank of priest. He served as a second priest in several churches in Kiev. In 1908 he was appointed to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Hankow, China and was rector in the church of St. Alexander Nevsky for 16 years. When he came to Australia he settled ona farm at Birkdale, then on the outskirts of Brisbane and divided his time between farm work and helping Fr. Alexander with church services. On occasions he conducted church services when Fr. Alexander was unavailable because of other commitments.